New Yorkers who commonly associate New York City with damaging rates of pollution may be surprised to learn that upstate New York has a higher cancer rate than downstate, and in fact, it really has nothing to do with pollution.
“While environmental factors undoubtedly play a role,” Russell Sciandra, advocacy director for the American Cancer Society (ACS) of NY and NJ, said at a press conference, “personal behaviors are much more likely to increase your risk of cancer.”
According to a first ever report from the American Cancer Society, The Cancer Burden in New York State, smoking is a major factor in the 30 percent difference in lung cancer rates between upstate and city residents. The smoking rate in the city is 14 percent while upstate it is over 20 percent. Since 90 percent of lung cancer is said to be caused by smoking, New York City residents may have anti-smoking advocate Mayor Michael Bloomberg to thank for their health.
Since Bloomberg took office in 2002, smoking has decreased by 27 percent and deaths related to smoking decreased by 17 percent, according to city officials. His administration banned smoking in bars, restaurants and offices in 2003, in city parks last year, and more recently introduced a bill that requires landlords to disclose residential smoking policies.
“That kind of government initiative really just hasn’t been seen elsewhere in the state,” said Sciandra.
And it is that kind of government initiative the American Cancer Society says led them to release the report. They believe upstate needs to get the same dose of anti-smoking medicine the city gets. Its next steps in pushing the report forward will be distributing it to key lawmakers and begin the process of engaging with the executive and legislative branches.
“We want a top level conversation on how to battle cancer from New York, said Blair Horner, vice president for advocacy for the ACS. “That means keeping people from getting it, that means helping them to identify it early and helping those who have cancer to deal with the disease both financially and through their health care.”
The ACS stresses if the state wants to make any dent in reducing the number of deaths caused by cancer it needs to start with slashing the smoking rates by funding the Tobacco Control Program. New York used to have one of the best funded programs in the country, but today it ranks 20th. Over the last few years that funding has decreased and is now well below the level recommended by the Center for Disease and Control Prevention.
“If the state wants to address the cancer problem it has to address the tobacco problem,” Sciandra.